Millions of workers across Australia now have access to unpaid domestic violence leave

Millions of workers across Australia will now have access to unpaid domestic violence leave.

From today, employees on modern awards can take up to five days of unpaid leave to deal with family and domestic violence following a ruling by the Fair Work Commission earlier this year.

Under the new entitlement, family and domestic violence means "violent, threatening or other abusive behaviour by an employee's family member that seeks to coerce or control the employee or causes them harm or fear".

Eligible employees can take the leave if they need to deal with the impact of family and domestic violence and it is impractical to do so outside their ordinary hours of work.

While some had called for the leave to be paid, the new scheme has been hailed as the first step towards solving a pervasive issue.

"On the one hand, violence is not OK, but on the other hand, if you are taking time off to deal with domestic and family violence, your pay is going to be docked," Rachael Uebergang from the NT Working Women's Centre said.

"I think we can do better than that."

Ms Uebergang said she believed fewer victims would take up the leave knowing that it would not be compensated.

"The whole intention of this leave is to support and empower women to leave abusive relationships and we know that's a really expensive exercise," she said.

"On average it costs about $18,000 to leave an abusive relationship. If you don't have your income to cover those costs, you will be less likely to leave that relationship."

'This is a step, but it's a small step'

In Australia, one in three women will be affected by domestic violence, with Indigenous women disproportionately impacted.

Indigenous women and girls are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence than the rest of the population.

In Alice Springs, the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (CAAC) has offered employees paid domestic violence leave since December 2017.

General manager of health services Tracey Brand said the new legislation fell short of what she thought would be effective.

"It is somewhat encouraging to see that they have it legislated, however I feel as though it hasn't gone far enough," she said.

"We know that a number of working women will not leave environments that are unsafe when they don't have financial security."

She said CAAC understood that in their predominantly female workforce, domestic violence was an issue that affected individuals and the entire organisation.

"It is an absolutely huge issue in our community. It is in the community and also comes into the workplace," she said.

"We are of the view that it will enable them more time to look at legal support, attending court, looking at safer accommodation and providing greater comfort to the employee and also their family."

Ms Uebergang said despite reservations about the current leave being offered, the gesture would go a long way towards changing workplace cultures around domestic violence.

"This is a step in the right direction, but it's a small step," she said.

"We're hearing loud and clear from all parts of government that domestic and family violence is not OK. We need to back that up with support."

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